The “fixed returns” you talk about from whole life are not the 4-6% you mention in multiple places. Again, as I said in the post, the guaranteed returns are much closer to 1% or less. Yes you might get better returns depending on the dividends the insurance company decides to pay, but that’s not “fixed” or guaranteed. It changes every year. And yes, you can improve those refunds if you vastly overfund the policy in the early years, which again is something I already mentioned in the post. But for 98-99% of the population that really isn’t a viable strategy.
Certain insurance products and practices have been described as rent-seeking by critics.[citation needed] That is, some insurance products or practices are useful primarily because of legal benefits, such as reducing taxes, as opposed to providing protection against risks of adverse events. Under United States tax law, for example, most owners of variable annuities and variable life insurance can invest their premium payments in the stock market and defer or eliminate paying any taxes on their investments until withdrawals are made. Sometimes this tax deferral is the only reason people use these products.[citation needed] Another example is the legal infrastructure which allows life insurance to be held in an irrevocable trust which is used to pay an estate tax while the proceeds themselves are immune from the estate tax.
If you have a persuasive personality, a strong aptitude for working with numbers and a desire to help others, you might enjoy a career as an insurance salesperson. Your options include a path as an insurance broker or insurance agent. While both occupations involve the sale of insurance policies, there are also some important differences to consider.

As to the universal life policy, I don’t have data as to how much I paid in the early years before the premium vanished. But the premium reappeared around 2011. Still, over the past 4 years (for which I have full records that enabled these calculations), paying the premium has increased the cash value each year by over 5% in addition to the premium amount itself, and has increased the death benefit by 120% or more of the annual premium, making it worthwhile to me, at this point, to keep paying the premium on this policy.
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So let’s do a quick comparison. Let’s take that $527 annual premium and invest it instead. From 1963 to 2013, the US stock market earned a 10.22% annual return (source), but let’s assume that this person also put some money into bonds (smart) and earned a more conservative 8% annual return. Over those 50 years, at that 8% return, that money would have grown to $327,231. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have my money that way than locked inside a whole life insurance policy.
None of the below should be taken as actionable advice. You should consult someone who you know and trust before making any important financial decisions. This is just a window into how I made my decision, so you can see some things I considered. I might be wrong about some of these things, but everything I’ve written below is what I believe today based on my current understanding and the guidance of my own advisers. Please note that I do also max out my 401k and IRAs and keep a modest taxable account as well, so whole life is just one piece (albeit a fairly sizable one) of my portfolio.
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Shoes are great but if the statement is “size six shoes are great” makes the question more difficult to answer. If you were born with size six feet then size six shoes could be excellent for you. If you’re a size 13 – then, maybe not so much. See? The answer is subject to your personal needs/requirements. Same is true with whole life insurance. Next time you’re pondering the subject ask yourself what should a grandfather do if he wants to insure his grandchild has something from him when his children are irresponsible and will most likely either outright steal the grandchild’s inheritance or just blow through it if they could? Or understand that the family has a history of illness and by purchasing the policy at an early stage the baby will be abler to get life permanent insurance. But to do what I ask requires real thought, not someone shooting from the hip.

Typically, life insurance is chosen based on the needs and goals of the owner. Term life insurance generally provides protection for a set period of time, while permanent insurance, such as whole and universal life, provides lifetime coverage. It's important to note that death benefits from all types of life insurance are generally income tax-free.1
Thank you for all your articles…very insightful. My husband and I had a very similar situation as you and your wife when you first met with a “financial planner” (aka insurance salesman). Now, we look at having paid 8 years of adjustable comp life for our policies plus policies for both of our children (5 and 2). We feel like we made a mistake and, as you know, were swayed by the talk of retirement investment and “throwing money away”. So now, we wonder…should we go paid up on our policies, which would drop them both down substantially, but we no longer would have to pay into them (and get more term to cover the difference) and cancel our kids policies?
Of course the fees are applied to your principle and interest, which drags the value of your account down to painful levels. The simulation that the salesman ran for me was based on the assumption that the value of the account would grow 8% compounded every year. The results of this simulations looked really cool at first because the salesman focused on the long term results and the steady increase in death benefit. But when I looked at the numbers more closely, it was sobering. The investment produced negative interest in the first 7 years (as high as -37.51% in the first year) after which it turned the corner and then began to return 6-8% after year 11.
Additionally, this can be a great way to compliment a financial plan that is linked to the markets performance. When I am in my 60’s nearing retirement and have a good amount of cash value in my policy–I will not be terribly worried about the market performance (401(k)s/mutual funds/ IRA/ stocks). I know that flucuations in the market will occur and if a recession happens when I am 62, I will use my cash and policy cash value to hold me over until the markets recover. Again, my aim is not to buy high and sell low, it is to buy low and sell high.
I agree with you, generally. Many of those commenting seem to have forgotten that you focused around whole life as an “investment”. Even though insurance is an investment in it’s own way, it’s shouldn’t be sold as an investment. In my experience, it really only makes sense for more wealthy clients who are doing more elaborate estate planning etc. However, the vast majority of people in their 20’s and 30’s should steer clear of whole life. Selling permanent insurance for “retirement planning” gives the financial services industry a slimy look. The income isn’t “tax-free”. It’s a loan. As you say in the article: if one’s taking it for income are they really going to pay it back…? Plus, if a client is in their 20’s and 30’s their time horizon is perfect for IRAs and the equity markets. May dividend aristocrat stocks have paid high percentages for 50+ years. Lastly, as many agents put their clients first…. others do not. If the premiums on whole life are 10x as high… so are the commissions.
Rates quoted are subject to change and are set at the company's sole discretion. Rates for other underwriting classifications would be higher. Further underwriting restrictions may apply. Other face amounts and guaranteed premium terms are available but will have different rates than those shown here. Premium may be paid annually, semi-annually, quarterly or monthly; premium paid may differ based on payment mode selected. A medical exam may be required depending on age, health or amount of coverage requested.

Matt, the illustration does have a guaranteed element to it, the guaranteed keeps going up every year whether the company issues a dividend or not, obviously the guarantees are less. Like I said the purpose of this type of life insurance is not to “invest” its to have something that you wont other wise have. with 30 year term, the term is guaranteed to expire in 30 years. anyhow I wont debate you on that as I can see where you are coming from. I understand that when a person gets into a plan to pay off debt and invest heavily they will have “no need” for life insurance after they’ve paid debt and their children have grown. I’m more conservative therefore I like to make sure I have something despite having debt paid for etc.. I’d like to leave an article for you to read, its an actual case study of a gentlemen who opened a small 29000 participating whole life policy back in the mid 60’s. in 2013 he now had $166,424 in Coverage and had only paid $26,186. Anywho not bad for the guy. heres the article for anyone interested in reading the case study.


A few comments… You shouldn’t ever be buying whole life insurance for purely for the reason of investing, you buy any life insurance because you need life insurance, the investment component is secondary. So not sure why we are analyzing it purely as an investment (I actually do know why, because some agents try to sell it this way, and Matt is trying to help them avoid a pitfall).
In Jordan’s case, assuming that all those numbers will stay consistent and that there aren’t any scenarios in which he might need to put significantly more into the policy in order to keep it active (which is possible), then it’s a relatively small price to pay for security that sounds like is important to him. I wouldn’t personally take out the policy because I would rather put that money to work elsewhere, but I could understand the appeal.
This is so true, and even more so for personal insurance such as auto, home, and life. Everyone should be aware that unlike your financial advisor (who is heavily regulated) your insurance broker has NO fiduciary responsibility to act in your best interest. What I find amazing about this contradiction is that a large percentage of families in this county likely send more annually on insurance products than put into savings and retirement accounts.
This isn’t entirely accurate. Whole life insurance isn’t a product designed to replace term insurance. It wouldn’t make sense to have a retirement account disappear in the event of someone passing early. This would be irresponsible on the part of an agent to suggest this. Whole life has to be used with the intent of using it as collateral for loans, enhanced retirement and for leaving a legacy. In the early years it should be set up with a term rider to ensure a family’s needs will be met. Yes this is more expensive but it is a tool with an objective and if that’s not the objective then whole life makes no sense at all. It is not right for everyone.
Pre-need life insurance policies are limited premium payment, whole life policies that are usually purchased by older applicants, though they are available to everyone. This type of insurance is designed to cover specific funeral expenses that the applicant has designated in a contract with a funeral home. The policy's death benefit is initially based on the funeral cost at the time of prearrangement, and it then typically grows as interest is credited. In exchange for the policy owner's designation, the funeral home typically guarantees that the proceeds will cover the cost of the funeral, no matter when death occurs. Excess proceeds may go either to the insured's estate, a designated beneficiary, or the funeral home as set forth in the contract. Purchasers of these policies usually make a single premium payment at the time of prearrangement, but some companies also allow premiums to be paid over as much as ten years.
I am attracted to the asset based on 1) The tax diversification advantages 2) The idea of a death benefit for my family after I pass 3) the physiological trigger of forced savings 4) The “relative” liquidity/ flexibility of being able to access the money 5) The, what I view as, an acceptable rate of return “ROR” vs. the “buy term and invest the rest option” based on the relatively low risks 6) The idea of treating this as a fixed income asset that does not get taxed annually in my overall asset allocation and therefore adjusting my 401K bucket towards more equity and finally 7) The idea of a fixed investment with stable returns in the distribution phase of retirement is important to me.
Regarding pension vs registered accounts: It is hard to know what is better, relying on your pension or relying on an individually held mutual fund account (or some variation thereof using other securities). This would require a close reading of the pension and securities legislation in your region. For us in Canada, a defined benefit pension (prescribed benefits upon retirement based on a formula where the employer is responsible for funding any shortfall) can be incredibly enticing due to the guarantees attached to them. It is the preferred pension and stacks up really well against defined contribution pensions (where employers match the contributions of employees to at least a certain degree and where the account grows until retirement and the pensioner draws down the account and is burdened with any shortfall) but defined benefit plans are going the way of the dodo over here. It’s still available to government employees but most private employers don’t want to take on the risk of having to meet funding requirements. That’s a huge liability on the balance sheet. In any case, pensions have a few benefits over individual savings vehicles. First, they benefit from reduced management fee pricing, thereby improving returns marginally over the course of fund accumulation. Second, they benefit from a longer investment horizon since they are always looking many years in the future as their pension liabilities are long-term by definition. Third, actuaries are required to evaluate pensions regularly to make sure funding targets are established and followed.

A broker will help his or her clients identify their individual, family, business or organization liability risks. With this information, a client can make an informed decision about what type of insurance is necessary and how much insurance protection to purchase. A broker can guide clients on these decisions, and provide a range of quotes based on the client’s needs. This includes explaining the terms and conditions and benefits and exclusions for a number of competing insurance policies. Armed with this information, clients can find the most appropriate insurance purchase for their liability needs and budget. Some brokers may even be able to negotiate lower rates for their clients based on their history as an insured and the amount of insurance that they are purchasing. For example, a broker working with a company to obtain workers’ compensation insurance can first assess the type and level of coverage needed (which may be determined in part by state law). The broker can then provide a range of options from a number of insurers, and help the business pick the policy that provides the most coverage at the best price. Over time, the broker can gather and present information to the insurer to demonstrate that the company should be eligible for a lower rate, perhaps because the business’ workplace safety initiatives have lowered the number of workers’ compensation claims made against the policy. In this manner, a broker can help a client reduce its premium cost.


*All discounts are subject to eligibility criteria and applicable rates and rules at the time of purchase. Actual savings vary. Life multi-policy discount is not available in conjunction with auto policies already taking advantage of ERIE Rate Lock®. Erie Family Life insurance products are not available in New York. For additional information, contact your local ERIE agent.
And I agree with you Matt. People that just try to make a buck on someone else’s loss or something they truly can’t afford is despicable to me. And I apologize for my “are you licensed?” Comment. Your actually doing a noble thing as a father and informing people that need to hold on to what they can or invest it correctly in this economy. I have a lot of business owners and high end clients and I sell them whole life for a ton of reasons. But for my blue collar average joe or even white collar for that matter, I just wanna take care of them and their families. They’re not my customers their my clients. And that’s drilled into us by New York Life, I hope you have continued success in your Financial Planning career. God bless you.
I am an agent with one of the top companies and have been for 5 years. The “buy term and invest the rest” sounds like a great idea but here’s what I have found. People don’t actually do it. You cannot change human behavior. I try to hold my clients accountable and want them to do the same for me. If a client is a spender, they will never stop being a spender. For those people we design a savings plan that let’s them spend their money guilt free, as long as they hit their monthly savings goal, they can spend what they wish.
1. What I mean by that is why not buy a whole life policy carry the policy for 20/30 years, just as you would a term life. Then once you have paid down all debt, built wealth, and self funded funeral expenses you surrender your policy. (Making sure my policy has no surrrender fees past year 30) Walking away with more Money than you paid in premiums. To me this also gives me options once I hit that 30 year mark to possibly keep the money in the whole life policy to continue to increase at a conservative and somewhat safe rate.
This is a very helpful example of why WL insurance IS a good investment: http://www.mypersonalfinancejourney.com/2013/04/infinite-banking-concept-whole-life-insurance.html. Also, Paradigm Life has several very good models to show how WL policies can out pace “buy term and invest the difference” products long term. One size does not fit all. I have Term Life insurance supplementing my WL policies right now, but they are all convertible. So I will be able to lump in money later and convert them into permanent policies with all of the borrowing and tax sheltered benefits. 

Universal life insurance addresses the perceived disadvantages of whole life—namely that premiums and death benefits are fixed. With universal life, both the premiums and death benefit are flexible. With the exception of guaranteed-death-benefit universal life policies, universal life policies trade their greater flexibility off for fewer guarantees.
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When I was at the meeting yesterday with my parents also present, I was really impressed at the product, which was basically a variation of whole life insurance called FFIUL. I was also impressed with the upper level salesman and the presentation. I saw the simulation that was shown and the resulting table of yearly returns looked impressive at first. I left the meeting with a smile on my face and was really thinking about making the investment especially considering that my friend (an accountant whose house I was at) said that he had invested in the same product.
*Payoff Protector is not an insurance product. Subject to the terms, conditions, and restrictions of the Payoff Protector provision in your State Farm Bank Promissory Note and Security Agreement. If your vehicle is determined to be a total loss before the loan is paid off, State Farm Bank will cancel the difference between the insurance payout and the unpaid principal balance due on the loan. Certain restrictions apply. For example, your loan must be in good standing.
Nick this was a terrific overview. You didn’t mention the whole life rip-off, i.e., that the Client is paying for 2 things but in the end only gets 1. If the insured dies the death benefit goes to the beneficiary, the cash goes back to the company. Conversely, if the Client takes the cask the contract is terminated and the death benefit is gone. Bad, bad, bad!
As for your question, USAA is a fantastic company and I would happily recommend them for many things, like auto, home, and umbrella insurance. With that said, I have never reviewed one of their whole life insurance policies and therefore can’t really comment on that specifically. I will say that I would be careful about taking that 4.5% return at face value, as I describe in the post. I would encourage you to run the numbers for yourself to see what it really comes out to.
These reviews are all from Medicare beneficiaries just like you. Our clients consistently rate us 5 stars for both our up-front help, but also the phenomenal back-end support you get from our Client Service Team. We have some of the very best Medicare supplement agents in the country. These independent Medicare advisors truly care. You can read our reviews here. Notice how many of them are from clients who called us when Medicare denied their claim or rejected their bills or their doctor mis-codes a service or when they are standing at the pharmacy and can’t get their medication. Normally you would call the insurance company yourself to try to figure out how to fix these things. 

Matt, the illustration does have a guaranteed element to it, the guaranteed keeps going up every year whether the company issues a dividend or not, obviously the guarantees are less. Like I said the purpose of this type of life insurance is not to “invest” its to have something that you wont other wise have. with 30 year term, the term is guaranteed to expire in 30 years. anyhow I wont debate you on that as I can see where you are coming from. I understand that when a person gets into a plan to pay off debt and invest heavily they will have “no need” for life insurance after they’ve paid debt and their children have grown. I’m more conservative therefore I like to make sure I have something despite having debt paid for etc.. I’d like to leave an article for you to read, its an actual case study of a gentlemen who opened a small 29000 participating whole life policy back in the mid 60’s. in 2013 he now had $166,424 in Coverage and had only paid $26,186. Anywho not bad for the guy. heres the article for anyone interested in reading the case study.
Contingent or incentive commissions reward agents and brokers for achieving volume, profitability, growth or retention goals established by the insurer. For example, Elite Insurance promises to pay the Jones Agency an extra 3 percent commission if Jones writes $10 million in new property policies within a certain time frame. If Jones renews 90 percent of those policies when they expire, Elite will pay Jones an addition 2 percent commission. 

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